It’s my great pleasure to continue my series of Running Wild Anthology of Stories author interviews with VT Dorchester. VT’s story, “Under the Eye of the Crow,” is an unusual and rather haunting Western that left me eager to read more.
Gemma: Welcome, VT! Can you tell us a bit of what your story is about?
VT: “Under the Eye of the Crow” is a historic fiction in part about an outlaw (Gar Weeks) who is robbed and left on the lone prairie to die. He decides he won’t, despite his circumstance and his regrets, and we follow him as he tries to reach…well, I suppose we could call it a kind of salvation.
Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?
VT: I had written a first draft of a literary western novella in which Gar Weeks plays a significant role a few years before writing this short. When, as part of a local flash fiction group, I was assigned the prompt “torture your character,” I immediately thought of torturing Weeks! Much of his character was already established, including that he had taken part in a disaster of some kind during his service as a Union soldier.
I wrote a first few drafts of what became “Under the Eyes…” with almost the entire focus on this character dying of thirst. The story didn’t feel complete, and it sat rather unsatisfactorily for a while. After a time, I thought to specify the event during the U.S. Civil War which haunted the character and story. Doing a little research, I discovered the tragic historic incident at Ebenezer Creek, Georgia. I encourage anyone interested to search for information about The Abandonment at Ebenezer Creek. I knew immediately that I wanted to refer to that incident in this fiction.
It took several more revisions to get my story “right” enough for sending it out for possible publication, and then, when Running Wild accepted the story, I wrangled a bit, I hope politely, with the editor (Cecile Sarruf) until we finally agreed on the story as it now stands! I am glad it worked out eventually.
Gemma: And it worked out very well. Readers who want to know more about The Abandonment at Ebenezer Creek could start with Wikipedia. How did you find out about this anthology?
VT: I don’t remember. It is quite difficult to find venues which actively seek western stories, and as a result I tend to cast out my western short stories rather wildly. I’ll send them out to pretty much any publication which doesn’t specifically say “no westerns.” (I write and have published other literary and different genre stories under another name.)
Gemma: Westerns have such a long, venerable history I hadn’t thought how hard it might be to find places to publish them. I’m glad you found Running Wild Press! Do you remember when and why you started writing?
VT: The first story I remember writing “seriously” was a story about a stray cat. It was grey. I was in elementary school. I’ve played around a bit with writing ever since, but it is only in the past five years or so that I have become “serious” about writing fiction again. I don’t remember why, exactly, I decided to start writing about a cat, except that I must have felt I had an entertaining story to tell. I still feel that I have entertaining stories to tell, although I understand others may not agree.
Gemma: I most definitely do agree! (And I think one of my first stories featured a cat, too; apparently a good genre for budding writers.) What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
VT: While I have one other western short story published, “Under the Eye of the Crow” is definitely the one with greater depth. The other also includes (a far more laid back) Gar Weeks in its cast, but focuses on a different character. It’s a Christmas story about a bank robbery. Plus hot cocoa. No one dies.
Gemma: That sounds intriguing! Can you tell me a bit more about it?
VT: It was “The Story of Willow Henry Mcglone,” published in the 2018 “Rise” edition of Havik, the Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature.
Gemma: How has your writing changed over time?
VT: The first stories I wrote when I returned to fiction five years ago were pretty rough and I had trouble incorporating ideas or themes. I feel I still struggle to translate what I ‘see’ or ‘hear’ in my mind on to the page, but I’m getting better at it. I feel that my ability to edit my work has also increased greatly, as has my confidence in my work.
Gemma: For what it’s worth, I struggle with those same issues, and I know we’re not alone. But getting more proficient at editing is an excellent thing, as it can overcome a lot of those problems. What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
VT: The End. I have trouble completing writing projects. My best example is the novella I mentioned earlier. I would like to revise, edit and work towards having it published, but instead it’s been sitting for half a decade now as I work on shorter, easier to finish projects.
Gemma: I sympathize – I have a stack of unfinished projects, too. But working on finishable projects is a very worthwhile thing. Still, I hope you finish that novella, because I really want to read it some day! What do you like best to write?
VT: While it is not evident from “Under the Eye,” I am quite happy when a reader smiles or even laughs at something intentionally funny in my stories. I also like incorporating some science, history, or a sense of location.
Gemma: “Under the Eye” did an admirable job with its sense of place and history. I can still feel the grit and thirst from reading it. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, setting, plot or character? Or does it vary from story to story?
VT: It’s often a “scene” – a particular image or series of images I can see in my mind, usually with a character present. Other times, I can “hear” a character talking to me or with another character. I have lengthy, animated conversations, sometimes in public, with my characters.
Gemma: Oh, that’s excellent! I’ve had some conversations with characters while out on walks, and been kind of mortified when someone comes up from behind me and I wonder if they’ve overheard. On another subject, what authors have influenced your writing most?
VT: My western genre writing is most influenced by classic Hollywood western films. These were generally less concerned with historical truth and more concerned with characters, place and moral codes. And horses, songs, weird shirts and big hats.
Gemma: So true! I sense “Under the Eye” has more historical truth in it than some of those classic western movies, though it shares with them a strong sense of place.
VT: Thank you. While I do not pretend to have a great deal of historical knowledge, I did conduct more research for this story than I have for many others.
I believe there will always be room for new quasi-mythic western stories in the tradition of classic westerns, but there is also a demand from modern audiences for a greater incorporation of historical truth. Westerns have always, to a greater or lesser degree, reflected the concerns and demands of society contemporary to their creation. Today, a certain degree of “realism” is in demand. It is easier than ever for writers to research, and it’s easier than ever for readers to research, too. In the case of ‘Under the Eye’ I felt a particular need to take care and research due to it’s incorporation of historical tragedy. But first and foremost, when I write, I’m trying to tell a story. A fiction story. If I get some facts right along the way, I’m glad, but the facts aren’t the most important thing to a fiction story, if they were, the story would be creative non-fiction, or a non-fiction essay, instead.
Gemma: Good points and well put, VT. Is there a place that you’ve lived or visited that especially influences your writing?
VT: I live in a small valley town in British Columbia where I am mere minutes away from hiking trails. I am also lucky enough to travel with some regularity. I regularly feel inspired by new scenery or walks in closer-to-natural settings, and my stories often involve weather events and nature.
Gemma: What stories are you working on now?
VT: While I’m not working on writing a western story right now, I am seeking publication for a short story I completed earlier this year, about a modern state trooper in eastern Oregon who has an encounter with super-natural beings during a blizzard.
Gemma: That sounds enticing! I hope that gets published because you’ve hooked me with that description.
VT: I am also looking forward to the publication of a western flavoured re-telling of the stone soup folk tale late this year with Frontier Tales.
Gemma: I can’t wait to read that – I love folk tales, and that’s actually a childhood favorite of mine. How can I and other readers keep up to date on when that comes out, and otherwise connect with you?
Gemma: My pleasure, VT. I look forward to reading more of your stories!
Readers, VT’s blog includes reviews of movies and books and other interesting things like a feature about Old Time Radio Shows. I hope you’ll give it a look!